David Brooks, “Harvey, Irma, Jose … and Noah” (12 SEP 2017), on The New York Times at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/12/opinion/harvey-irma-jose-and-noah.html [accessed 14 SEP 2017]; a version of this op-ed appears in print in the New York edition of The New York Times (12 SEP 2017), pg. A27; and under the title “Noah all wet; heed Abraham,” The Times Tribune (Scranton, PA; 13 SEP 2017), pg. A11.
1. The author, along with those he cites, appears to be ignorant of the Old Testament contexts concerning both Noah and Abraham, and the subsequent New Testament revelation concerning Noah along with his linkage to Abraham.
Noah did “hearken” to the commands that God gave him. Anyone suggesting otherwise finds their judgment indicted by the Word of God.
“By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.” (Hebrews 11:7)
Abraham also obeyed God, but his obedience in no sense involved, on the one hand, a reconstructed Ur in Canaan, or on the other hand, a reconstruction of the cities of the plain like Sodom.
To assume that there is a divide between Abraham and Noah when it comes to faith, obedience, and their relationship to God, as this author does, is ludicrous when examined in the light of Scripture which refers to Noah’s faith, his response of godly fear, and his inheritance of “the righteous which is by faith.”
There were no “collective institutions” for Noah to yoke himself to. On this point alone the entire premise of Brooks’ article falls to the ground. This realization should cause the readers of this column to respond with incredulity to the final paragraph. One is left wondering if perhaps the responsibility for the universal destruction is to be laid at Noah’s feet due to his failure to yoke himself to “collective institutions” prior to the deluge, or perhaps a localized flood is imagined leaving institutions in place for him to yoke himself to. Following this train of thought for the sake of argument the judgment at Babel looms as the result (Genesis 11:1-9).
Besides this, the only “collective institution” that Abraham was yoked to was the covenant family, intentionally separated from Sodom, Gomorrah, or any other city of the plain destroyed by fire from God. His intercession is intentionally concluded by the successful deliverance of his extended family members, and only then on the basis — presented as a given — of their relationship to God. In the sense apparently intended by Brooks Abraham’s intercession failed miserably, since Sodom was not saved, and the few who were saved only experienced this by being removed from the scene prior to the fall of judgment. Those attempting to position Abraham and his intercession against Noah and his lack thereof must admit that Abraham’s initial intercession compromised by entering into a reductionist process that could only be paralleled in the Noahic account by linking the 8 members of Noah’s family being delivered while the world is destroyed to the family of Lot being led out of Sodom just prior to its destruction.
The supposed “silence” of Noah in the face of the revelation from God concerning the coming destruction is demonstrated to be erroneous in the New Testament where Noah is portrayed as far from silent. “And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly” (2 Peter 2:5) Understanding that Noah is a preacher of righteousness may not be limited to the post-announcement, pre-deluge period, but must embrace the period prior to God’s revelation of the coming destruction by deluge. Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, the daughter of a Rabbi, and considered to be a Torah scholar, is cited by Brooks as affirming that Noah was “incurious,” ignorant and apathetic towards those who are about to be destroyed by God, and incapable of meaningful speech to God and his fellows. I will leave to others to establish whether or not this evidences even good Torah scholarship. Such judgmental assumptions are certainly contrary to Moses’ description of this just man who found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6:8-9), and Peter’s recorded characterization of him as a preacher of righteousness.
Fact: Noah’s family was saved. The pre-deluge world was not.
Fact: Abraham’s relatives were delivered. Sodom and the cities of the plain were not.
Fact: Moses’ nation was not immediately destroyed, but only two from that generation entered the Promised Land: Joshua and Caleb. The rest died on the other side of the river as a judgment from God (including Moses).
Fact: All three of these men, Noah, Abraham, and Moses are found commended for their faith in Hebrews 11, the “Hall of Fame” of the faithful.
2. Criticism of what Noah did or did not do prior to or subsequent to the Deluge evidences the proud self-righteousness of an armchair patriarch or Monday morning prophet.
We have no idea concerning the specific details of what Noah saw or heard from the world condemned and destroyed by God. Any insistence concerning what he did or did not do beyond what the text of Scripture explicitly reveals is an argument based on silence. Such eisegestical presumptions must be summarily rejected as speculative at best.
The absence of any revelation concerning an attempt by Noah to intercede for this pre-deluge world likewise condemns assumptions to the contrary as begging the question (petitio principii). If Noah did attempt to intercede, it is not revealed. God’s inscripturated revelation does not speak in the negative of such an attempt. In other words, God did not choose to tell us in His inspired Word that Noah did not attempt to intercede for the condemned world. From the previous point it would seem a stretch to assume that intercession did not accompany the preaching of this righteous man.
The first question begged is therefore, “Why not? Why are we not told one way or the other whether Noah attempted to intercede for the pre-deluge world?” Furthermore, if Noah did not intercede, the second question begged is, “Why didn’t Noah intercede for the pre-deluge world?” To pass judgment on Noah for this assumed failure by comparison to Abraham and Moses as this columnist does is to ignore the differences in the historical events, and the fact of this silence.
“Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” (1 Peter 3:20)
There are points of comparison between Noah and Abraham, but also contrasts that must not be ignored. In fact, Noah may have more in common with Lot, and Abraham with the ark than with each other. There is a sense in which Abraham and his intercession functions for Lot and his family in much the same way as the ark did for Noah and his family in the Biblical narratives.
One would think that even if Brooks is unfamiliar with the Nevi’im the Torah scholar and Rabbinical authorities he cites would be cognizant of the Latter Prophet Ezekiel’s linkage of Noah with Daniel and Job in his righteousness: “Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord GOD….Though Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, as I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness.” (Ezekiel 14:14, 20) For them to sit in judgment on Noah for what he did or did not do would seem to position themselves as more righteous than this threesome which includes Noah.
I would recommend that in the future this columnist might consult a wider variety of Biblical scholarship if he is going to attempt such ancient indictments and modern applications as he has in this article.
Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo Gloria,
John T. “Jack” Jeffery
Pastor, Wayside Gospel Chapel
16 SEP 2017